Music is a genre that I get a lot of enjoyment out of. I might not be the best at them, but I find myself drawn to play them. Even when the music isn't my favorite style, I still enjoy seeing what's on offer in a new game. At the end of 2019 and start of 2020, I played two new music games on Xbox One, AVICII Invector and Music Racer. Both were serviceable games in their own right, but I left each feeling something was missing. They just didn't completely click with me. AVICII was average at best, while Racer left me quite disappointed.
All that brings me to Sayonara Wild Hearts. I had seen it as part of a end of year breakdown of underrated games people might have missed. It became a good I was aware of and hoped to see it in the future. When I heard it was coming to Xbox One, it instantly became a purchase I was planning to make. I can happily report that Sayonara met my expectations completely and lead me to writing this review.
Before I continue to gush about this game completely, I'm going to briefly touch on the one thing I wish this game had - leaderboards. The songs and how easy it is to continue playing them over and over would lend itself perfectly to online leaderboards. Them not being there is annoying, but I had so much fun with the rest of the game that this appears so minor in retrospect as I type.
With that out of the way, let's get down to business. I'll tackle everything piece by piece as best as possible.The Music
Any music game requires great tracks to go with it. I can very easily say Sayonara meets this requirement. The game is definitely not what I traditionally listen to, but as I write this review, I have the soundtrack up and listening to it. I've done that twice recently in games I've loved with Hollow Knight and Cuphead. It's a testament to the quality of the compositions that I'm listening now and will likely buy the soundtrack. I can also admit that I was bopping my head and mouthing the words to the songs as I they played. If that doesn't tell you how catchy and fun they are, I don't know what else to tell you.Story
When I started the game, all I could say was I had no idea what I was really experiencing (both gameplay and story wise). But as I went, it became clearer. A story of love and heartbreak, it's about trying to move forward past the anger and truly accepting things and finding your way (or at least that's how I took it
). Especially in the "boss" levels, I began to continually notice more details conveyed on the screen and in the lyrics. Each boss had their own character and personality that shines through. As you go, you really discover a lot about the main character through their interactions.Visuals
This might be a broken record at this point, but the game visuals fit everything I've discussed so far. The tracks, story, and visual are woven together perfectly. As I listen to the songs, I can clearly see the level play out before me when I close my eyes. That's how strongly linked the visuals and music are in Sayonara. When just listening to the music can clearly put me back in the game and remembering everything, you know how well everything goes together.
I have those types of memories of Hollow Knight, but that's after nearly 80 hours totally put into the game. Sayonara did the same in less than 10. Either way, both of these games are sticking with me and the visuals are a clear reason why.Gameplay
Clearly all I've been talking about so far is the look and sound of the game. How does it play? Good news. REALLY FREAKING WELL!
Sayonara has you on a set track through an environment. It ranges from a subspace with no real features, to cities, forests, and the middle of a videogame. Your goal is to collect hearts while avoiding obstacles in either the environment or the enemy gangs out to stop you on your journey. Along the way though, there are elements to mix it up. Just some examples:
- Twin mini-guns on the sides of your motorcycle to shoot wolf robots
- Mirroring between multiple versions of the same world in beat with the song
- Alice in Wonderland mushroom trippy sequence
- Stuck in side-scrolling video game while dodging the bullets and enemies around you
- Aaero style enemy attack sequence
All of these ideas are executed well and don't overstay their welcome. By the time you reach the end of the level, you really saw what could be done with it in the context of the level and can safely move on to the next level where you either return to the regular gameplay or have a new mechanic to observe and learn.
And with how quick some of the tracks play, you can go right back in and try again to nail those sections you might have struggled with. Most tracks/levels are a couple minutes (the "boss" levels are a bit longer, but they move so quick it doesn't feel like it).Experience
And this expedience really can go to my streaming of the game. In the last 2 days, I put about 10 hours into the game on stream. I stream regularly. Easily 3 hours on Saturdays/Sundays (with others occasionally). But when I do those streams, I find myself ready to quit after those 2-3 hours. Like I know there is a limit where I begin to look for an "exit" or time to stop for the night even I like the game. On those two streams, it was effortless though. 4+ hours both times and I only stopped when I realized I really needed to get something to eat. I had completely lost track of how long I had played and wanted to just keep going.
That's powerful for a game to hold my interest so easily for that long. It doesn't hurt either when the people watching and listening pointed to a lot of the the things above (visuals and music) as being so easy to put on in the background. It came through even for them how great this game was without playing. Achievements
Going into the game, I had heard this game can be "beat" in an hour or two. I was curious. Having played the game for 9 hours on stream and still not being done yet, I can say that there is no "beat" in that. If you just want to play each song once from start to finish, then yes those statements have some truth to them. But the achievements will take a bit more than that. Why? The riddle system.
There are 24 achievements each tied to A/B sides of Zodiac Riddles (none of the achievements are really story related for just getting to the end). Each riddle will give a relatively vague statement relating to a level and/or task to complete in the game. There are hints based on the level name/tarot card/other elements to help narrow it down. It requires paying attention. Just one example had the following hints:
- Little, cursed blood pumpers
- Snaps and Claps
I had no idea what it might have meant, until it finally clicked. There was a song that had a lot of snap and clap in the audio and that linked to the level mechanic. The blood pumpers were obviously the heart pick ups. But then using the word "cursed" I was able to figure out that I couldn't pick them up in the song. Putting this all together was a neat realization.
If you're using a guide, this can be a non-element of the game, but I'd advise against it. I got to take my time experiencing everything multiple times while also keeping an eye out for the little details I might have missed the first time. There are still a few riddles to solve for me (I have the idea behind a bunch figured out, but I need to get it done), but I'm looking forward to getting them done soon.Conclusions
There's so much I didn't talk about here that I could have, but really, I don't think there is a need to. If any of the above interested you or if you enjoy the Music game genre, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a must play/own. It might not take as long as some music games such as a Guitar Hero/Rock Band title to get the 100%, but Sayonara is a focused experience that doesn't overstay it's welcome. I can't stress enough the value here. PLAY THIS GAME!!!